A Southampton technology company has fitted a NASA satellite with new technology that will be used to protect the planet's oceans.

Southampton technology and security company, Leonardo, has fitted the American space agency satellite with a sensor that will give NASA unprecedented levels of information about phytoplankton populations.

The firm said that understanding phytoplankton populations are vital to be able to safeguard the health of the global ocean ecosystem.

The sensor, known as the Ocean Colour Instrument, has been fitted to NASA’s PACE (Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem) satellite that was launched from Cape Canaveral on Thursday, February 8.

The sensor going to reveal a new spectrum of colours to scientists, which will be equivalent to using a box of 256 crayons instead of the previous boxes of 8 coloured crayons – helping to record data for climate studies.

Daily Echo: NASA's PACE satellite was launched on Sunday NASA's PACE satellite was launched on Sunday (Image: NASA)Matthew Hicks, Leonardo’s space programme manager said: “It’s been incredibly rewarding to work in collaboration with NASA.

“We feel a sense of urgency in delivering this capability for their important work, since recent satellite observations have suggested a small decrease in global phytoplankton productivity.

“Low-nutrient ‘marine deserts’ appear to be expanding due to rising ocean surface temperatures.

“It is a real source of pride that the sensors fitted to the NASA satellite could generate years of data to their scientists who could identify pathways to help us protect our oceans in the future.”

Phytoplankton are microscopic organisms that contribute to the conversion of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to the ocean.

While humans breathe in oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide, phytoplankton behave in the opposite way, consuming carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen, making them a crucial part of the marine ecosystem.

By monitoring global phytoplankton distribution, the sensor will help NASA better understand the complex systems that drive ocean ecology and the diverse populations of phytoplankton that exist within it.

Initially Leonardo were contacted as part of a pre-development phase but following testing of the Leonardo devices by NASA, the special Leonardo sensors were promoted due to their enhanced performance.